What They Say:
Blanca, a young woman with no memory of her past, is saved by Xuan, a snake catcher from a nearby village. Together they go on a journey to discover her real identity. As they learn about her past, they uncover a darker plot of supernatural forces vying for power, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Inspired by one of the most ancient and enduring stories in Chinese history, White Snake presents a sumptuous tale of trickster demons, deadly mythical beasts, assassins, wuxia action, and the promise of eternal love.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Mandarin language track along with the English dub, both of which are in 5.1 and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The film has a lot going on throughout with the movements and approach so that the camera swirls a lot, allowing for the audio mix to really work since nice magic. The big scenes are exactly what they need to be, though it avoids what we usually get from Hollywood films with the brass and all, but it still makes a big impact with the woods and the like. There’s some great magical moments throughout and an excellent flow in how the dialogue works in moving across the soundstage throughout. The softer tones and incidental music really does the most amount of work here as it fills in so much of the film – at times it doesn’t feel like there are many truly quiet moments – but it’s simply another character that helps to ease things along.
Originally released in 2019, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The 99-minute feature gets a single Blu-ray (a DVD is also included in the package) and with the language options and extras has plenty of room to work with here. Animated by Light Chaster Animation studios under Warner Bros. Far East, the film is a visually impressive work through and through. The quality of the motion of the characters is fantastic, the capture of the style and design reveals a lot of fantastic detail, and I love all the details that we get with the backgrounds and settings that makes it far richer. The color design really takes is several notches further – the whole rive sequence alone is fantastic – but just about every scene in this has something that’s striking and makes for a clean, crisp, and beautiful film overall that GKIDS has brought to life beautifully here with the encoding.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard-sized Blu-ray case and the first pressings all have an o-card included as well. They both use the same artwork with the title snake looming large while Xuan and our favorite talking dog is by his side along the bottom. It’s a good cover to show the scale of things and the detail but there’s also a softness to it that belies the actual quality of the film itself. It’s not a bad cover but it undersells it a bit I think. The back cover goes for a standard breakdown with a few shots along the top and a strip through the center that covers the basic premise. The bottom showcases what extras are included here and the basic technical information so you know how the film is set up. The case back cover has more of the details that really fleshes things out though in terms of languages. We don’t get any inserts included with this release but the reverse side of the cover features a beautiful background image from the film.
The extras for this release are pretty solid and make for a more filling viewing of the film overall. We get a few familiar pieces such as the trailers for it and a music video. There’s a good storyboard segment that runs just four minutes and gives us a select view of the approach from one form to the other, which I always enjoy seeing even after all these years. The bigger piece is the director Q&A done at AIF 2019 that comes in at twenty-six minutes (and has chapter marks!) as well as another separate interview with the director that comes in at fifteen minutes.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I’ll admit that over the years I’ve struggled with Chinese fables and folk tales. I grew up being exposed to all of the usual European ones that dominate a typical American upbringing and my time in anime exposed me to a slew of them – largely through Rumiko Takahashi. Fables and folk tales are staples for telling all kinds of story in any time period so they’re definitely useful, but I always had a bit of a struggle with the Chinese ones because I lacked a good foundation in their storytelling structure and formulas. While I’ve seen a bunch of them over the years they’re not ones I gravitate toward .White Snake is inspired by Legend of the White Snake and plays out, apparently, as a prequel to that tale here which is kind of neat. The film landed in early 2019 in China from Light Chaser Animation Studio with Warner Bros. Far East distributing and it’s had a solid run and exposure. The film was made for about $11 million US and was a solid performer bringing in $64 million theatrically.
The general premise of the film is the kind of love conquers all concept that appeals with the morality plays that most fables are. The central focus is on Blanca, a snake-demon who has forgotten who she is while disguised as a human woman for a while, and Xuan, a young man that exists as a snake hunter in order to protect people. It’s the kind of unexpected relationship that works well to bring people in because we like seeing those that are complete opposites come together. The two end up discovering what they are relatively early on (and get an amusing talking dog along the way) as their journey to figure out how to help Blanca begins. Particularly since her sister, Verta, dislikes what has happened to Blanca and is intent on fixing this. Being involved with anyone not of their kind definitely goes against all that they believe in but we have the problem where Blanca doesn’t have any real beliefs, starting with her memory loss, and can’t understand why this is bad as Xuan is a good guy that has definitely helped her.
What really grabbed me with the film more than the story are the visuals. The design team did an absolutely gorgeous job here, from the villages to the more mystical places and the surreality of the weapons workshop place. That whole sequence once they entered and then the platform turned into the water and they moved through to the other side was just fantastic. Anything involving water – particularly the rive chase – was above and beyond expectations. It’s stylish as hell and there’s some really great fluidity to it that delivers something impressive. I also absolutely adored the character animation as there’s some strong fine detail throughout it and the encoding handles it well. These details in the costumes are important for authenticity and small elements like the touches of makeup and more really drive home its appeal.
I was also really glad to see that the English language cast that populate this film was made up of actors of Chinese and Asian descent. I didn’t go into their biographies in a big way but there’s that added authenticity to the way the dub comes across as the Chinese characters in the tale feel Chinese in a way that you can’t always get. Stephanie Sheh has been doing a lot of big roles over many years and has directed a lot of projects as well and she does fantastic as Blanca here, which is no surprise. But I really enjoyed what Paul Yen brought to the table as Xuan as there’s an earnest charm that he gives the character while Vivian Lu – in like her second performance – was really great as Verta. But I will admit, like many films, the humor of the animal sidekick is my favorite as Matthew Moy just had a blast giving life to Dudou. Considering his work as Lars on Steven Universe, this should be no surprise.
White Snake plays within familiar fable territory but delivers a strong performance overall. With a great cast on both language tracks here that bring the story to life, it’s able to go a good bit above and beyond thanks to the quality of the visuals. Having grown up on way too many European fables and tales, these are the kinds of films that need to be mixed in with those for kids (and adults) so that they’re exposed to a more well-rounded experience. GKIDS put together a great release here – I’m still a bit surprised they dubbed it – and it looks fantastic. The inclusion of some solid extras definitely helps, especially those director interviews, so those that become fans get some real added-value here. Definitely worth checking out.
Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA Language, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Language, English Subtitles, Trailers, Music Video, Storyboards, Interviews
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: GKIDS
Release Date: February 4th, 2020
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.